Is the unthinkable becoming more likely?

Last October I wrote a piece postulating on the possibility of ever voting for the Conservative Party one day. The conclusion was that, in all probability, this would not happen, because of the unlikelihood of that particular animal being attractive to me. Since then, of course, the party has elected David Cameron as its leader (one of the conditions for me ever being able to stomach them in the first place), who has embarked on a major charm offensive. Recognising that his party has, for many years, made stomachs turn, he has gone to great lengths to re-engineer the entire Tory (even that is now a dirty word) ethos, and drag them to the centre. So much so that he is now going toe-to-toe with Tony Blair in virtually every way.

It’s the summer, so most politicians are meant to be on holiday somewhere, enjoying the enormous break they all receive at this time of year courtesy of us, the generous taxpayers. But not Big Dave. He’s doing the rounds, trying to keep himself in the papers and the public eye. Yesterday he was criticising the government’s efforts at combating Islamic terrorism in the UK. Today, he’s gone to the trouble of revealing a mini-manifesto. Which was nice of him. Let’s go through the key points and see how they measure up to the wish list I put together last year:

“Flatter and simpler” taxes and deregulation for industry
Yes, I have long liked the idea of a flat tax. Simplification of our sprawling and complex tax system, reducing the need for an army of overpaid bureaucrats at the Inland Revenue and closing tax loops exploited by the rich and their clever accountants? Definitely worth investigation.

Reducing means testing for pensioners, paid for by raising the retirement age
A great vote winner for the Tories. After all, most of their base is over sixty. Raising the retirement age is, unfortunately, a requirement for whoever gets in power. The pension deficit isn’t getting any smaller.

A “huge increase” in drug rehabilitation places for young offenders
Part of Cameron’s infamous “hug a hoodie” initiative I suppose. But I agree. Sending drug abusers to prison is like sending gamblers to Las Vegas.

“Binding annual targets” for carbon emissions
Easily said, not easily done. But again, I can’t fault the logic.

Ending the “culture of top down centralisation and targets” in the NHS
Ironic, seeing as his party introduced the idea in the first place, but still…

More “streaming and setting” in schools
Nothing wrong with pushing smarter kids up the ladder. As long as the others aren’t completely given up on of course. Nothing wrong with testing kids either and (gosh) occasionally failing them if they’re not up to standard.

Creating a “unified border police” and a homeland security minister
Like, whatever.

A New Bill of Rights to replace the Human Rights Act
I like the idea in principle – I’ve always supported constitutional reform and an enshrined Bill of Rights would be a part of that. Getting out of the European Human Rights Act wouldn’t be an easy task though.

Scrapping the government’s proposed ID card scheme and unelected regional assemblies
Definitely scrap the ID card. It will cost billions, go over budget, then cost billions more. It would be cheaper to simply let the benefit fraud that it would supposedly eliminate continue. It wouldn’t make any difference in fighting terrorism. As we’ve seen in the last year, our biggest threat comes from naturalised British citizens.

It has to be said, the blueprint set out here comes closer to matching the sort of liberal policies I would like to see our government represent than anything else I have seen recently. There is nothing here that would offend me. Of course, he’s got to sell the idea to the rest of his party – and there are still some hoary old monsters in there – not to mention their elderly membership, for the transformation to continue. But so far, so good. Big Dave, you’ve got me listening. It will be interesting to see where you go from here. My vote is very much up for grabs, I have little regard for any of the parties these days. If you could just take another look at your party’s name. The Conservatives. I just don’t like it. Would you consider changing it to something more agreeable? The Liberal Party, perhaps? Then you’d really have my attention.

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Centrist. Atlanticist. Dry liberal. Anti-totalitarian. Post-ideological pragmatist. Child of The Enlightenment. Toucan.

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7 comments on “Is the unthinkable becoming more likely?
  1. ph says:

    I have a problem, and probably so do a further third of the electorate. We do not want to be given a choice of three parties that are all have the same policies. Who does a hoary old reactionary like me vote for? Yes, I was one of the Tory voters in Bromley who could not be bothered to vote (first election I have ever missed).
    The policies you highlight are a good idea, but I am concerned that he (and the other parties) seem to ignore some of the major issues that have reduced the quality of life in the UK for most of its inhabitants. (immigration, housing, debt, crime)

  2. Anonymous says:

    Of course a more right wing person than me would say chuck out the illegal immigrants and that solves the housing and crime problems. Not sure about the debt though….

    GB

  3. Citizen Sane says:

    Alas, ph, ’tis not a good time for hoary old reactionaries. None of the parties are the slightest bit interested in courting your vote. But take solace in the fact that a sizable chunk of the Conservative Party don’t swallow any of Cameron’s touchy-feely nonsense either. Just as many in the Labour Party never reconciled themselves to the Blair love for markets and privatised industry. It’s all about electability. You still have a home in the Conservative Party. For now.

    As for those issues, well…

    Immigration: I don’t think Cameron will ever mention this word. Anyway, despite all the fuss it causes, the UK is still a net economic beneficiary of immigration.

    Housing: Do you mean lack of availability or extortionate cost? If the latter, that’s down to economic factors beyond this or any government’s control I fear.

    Debt: Personal or national? Personal is down to the individual isn’t it? National debt, agreed, the government should be doing something. But that something can only be reduce spending or raise taxes. Neither seems popular in the current climate.

    Crime: Hug a hoodie? Pah! Run over a hoodie, say I. Then reverse, just to make sure.

    GB – a more right wing person than you, or you after a few beers?

  4. ph says:

    Immigration – Britain a net beneficiary – prove it! Take out a a few thousand of the foreign super rich and Britain is certainly not a net beneficiary.
    Also economics is only one yard stick to measure the benefits of migration. Other yard sticks would show that mass immigration ain’t so good.

    Housing – I am talking about the fact that a whole generation has been priced out of the market and that we are becoming a two class society. Those with houses and those without. We are moving back to the Victorian times when there were rich landlords and poor tennants. For Labour to have allowed this to happen they should be eternally ashamed. And yes they did make the problem worse. In their rush to keep tax flooding in so they could miss-spend it, they lowered interest rates far too much and they allowed uncontrolled mass immigration. Please don’t say that The B.of E. sets interest rates. Remember the time when Eddie George said he would keep interest rates higher to stave off house price inflation. Well, after Gordon Brown had finished with him he never said that again.

    Personal debt is down to the individual, but this government through many of its policies has encouraged the feeling that debt is OK, and now we see the results.

    I think that in a few year’s time, sober reflection will conclude that this labour government stands alone in its incompetence.!!

  5. Anonymous says:

    CS, I’m afraid I’m with ph on a number of issues:

    Immigration brings certain economic benefits (cheaper goods and services) but causes problems. In particular there tends to be resentment in poorer communities where they have to compete for resources (low cost housing/council services), it is also driving down wages for local people who may have not earned much anyway. Also unemployment is at a 6 year high, could it be that British people/residents (who can claim benefits so appear in unemployment figures) are being priced out of work by the 500,000 European immigrants that have arrived in the past couple of years. That would explain how both the the number of people in work and unemployment can rise at the same time. Basically, I welcome some CONTROLLED imigration but not at the current rate.

    Housing: I think the government can help in other ways such as abolishing council tax rebates on second homes, even charging extra. This may help those in places like the coast/countyside where earnings are low and houses bought by city types to use occasionally. The cost of housing is also linked to the immigration debate because the increase in population is adding to demand for homes.

    As for Cameron, I think he is doing good work by improving their image (by not obsessing over things like Europe, sexuality, single parents and immigration) but he is a little too close to New Labour for me. I’ll still vote for him though.

    GB

  6. Citizen Sane says:

    Woah! A double pronged assault! OK. Deep breath. Big response coming.

    Immigration: PH challenges me to “prove” that immigration benefits the economy. Well, I could just as easily ask you to prove that it doesn’t. But there’s little point because I’m sure we have both read countless arguments and studies arguing both sides of the case. I remember reading a special report on the subject in the Economist last year which I thought was particularly convincing, but as with anything, we believe what we want to believe.

    Housing: Now the issues are becoming confused somewhat. I agree that we’re becoming a nation of homeowners and tenants. But I disagree that the government (any government, I’m not defending the current lot, I’m just trying to point out some facts) can do much about that other than supply more local authority housing. Which would cost money raised by taxes – I’m pretty certain you do not want that – and would amount to socialist intervention, something else you are plainly not keen on.

    As for interest rates, you’ve got me on a professional subject here and this could get very boring for everyone. Firstly, lowering interest rates is not in itself a tax raising strategy. Lower interest rates = lower mortgage payments = more expendable income. Tax outgoings are a constant and are affected by interest rates only insofar as lowering rates means people can more easily afford to pay tax. Interest rates are adjusted as part of a monetarist policy (something so beloved by Mrs Thatcher, herself a devotee of Hayek and Friedman) to control inflation. And interest rates ARE set by the Bank of England. Actually, to be precise, they are set by the MPC (Monetarist Policy Committee). They are answerable to Gordon Brown and their remit – their only remit – is to keep inflation around the 2% target. Something that isn’t happening right now, so we can all expect at least another two rate hikes to take the base to 5.25%. Inflation, meanwhile, is being driven by economic growth (pushing up consumer prices) and record oil prices.

    So basically, your assertion that the government uses interest rates as a tool for tax collection is bogus: they are driven by quite distinct factors, mostly global in nature. Nor are they used to control the cost of housing: putting rates up can cool the housing market, but this is only done as part of a bigger picture to control inflation. If inflation was under control but house prices were shooting up (which was the case for a number of years), interest rates would need to stay low (which they did). If inflation was going up yet the housing market was in freefall, interest rates would still have to go up. The whole world right now is going through a rate tightening phase, although interest rates overall still remain at historically low levels.

    Sorry, I did warn you.

    And GB: Of course immigration should be controlled. Nobody in the country suggests an open border policy, least of all me. And I have no problem with the government scrapping council tax rebates on second homes or raising the charges either. But again, this is a very socialist intervention. Considering you both proudly declare yourself as Conservatives, isn’t it interesting how many left wing principles you both advocate at times?

  7. ph says:

    Er if house prices are shooting up how on earth can inflation be under control.
    Who cares if the price of ‘skinny latte mocha riochas’ become unafordable? Whereas we all care if we cannot afford anywhere to live. Maybe we should measure the price of important things.
    There is official inflation (about 2.5%) and then there is real household inflation (which is around 5-6%).
    I am also sorry your arguements that teh government did not use interest rates to keep the taxes rolling just do not seem to ring true

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